Ontario restaurants, bars and gyms were grappling with a challenge that has become all too familiar this pandemic year on Saturday – trying to re-adjust business practices and protocol to new COVID-19 restrictions.
In Mississauga, Jake Malone, general manager of Door FiftyFive Whiskey Bar, chaired Patio Service – the only place he can serve customers now that Premier Doug Ford closed indoor dining on Friday as part of ‘a new list of restrictions as COVID-19 cases continue to increase.
“Today is day one with these new rules in effect, so we’re still open, but running on bare bones, a skeleton crew, and just a little bit of seeing what it looks like,” said Malone.
Their first morning under the new restrictions that limit restaurants and bars to the patio and the take-out or delivery service had been quite busy, until a short downpour of rain chased people away, t -he declares. For now, the restaurant is playing it by ear in hopes of avoiding another short-term shutdown and temporary layoffs.
“It was difficult to manage,” he said.
The rules reverted to the amended Stage 2 rules, which means businesses in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel are under a 28-day ban on eating and drinking indoors in stores. restaurants and bars, while gymnasiums, theaters and casinos must close their doors immediately. “This pandemic has accelerated at an alarming rate,” Ford said Friday.
Door FiftyFive, like many other businesses, hopes people take advantage of the weather and extend the patio season as long as possible. Although Malone notes that outdoor heaters remain scarce – this is a pandemic in-demand purchase – staff are encouraging guests to bring blankets or shawls and consider providing their own.
A newly cozy patio is just their latest pandemic pivot, Malone says. Over the summer, they tried different promotions and sales, made more take-out, even brought in DJs although there is no dance floor allowed, and considered starting a trivia night.
But as winter approaches, the pressure is strong. “Every day will be important,” he says.
Julie Mitchell, founder of spin studio Torq Ride, says she is fortunate enough to own the outdoor space to allow her and her staff to move 18 bikes down the aisle this summer and – after sorting out some problems with their “incredible” neighbors around music – giving lessons outside.
With indoor classes now banned, she is focusing on running those classes as long as clients are ready to go out and the bikes, which are covered in tarps every night, are able to handle the elements. It is also launching bicycle rentals and video streaming courses to take some of the slack this winter.
Although her income has fallen by about two-thirds, she says she understands the restrictions. And she plans to make the outdoor program permanent next year, an expansion that could be an unexpected boon after a tumultuous year.
“Our team really stepped up to help us overcome this. And that has also been amazing, ”she said.
Other fitness centers are currently negotiating a return to online classes.
At least this time it’ll be easier, now that everyone knows how to use Zoom, said Jennifer Lau, personal trainer and co-owner of Fit Squad, a personal training and group classes center in Toronto, though restrictions were still a blow to gyms, which were just starting to regain momentum after the spring closings.
But getting around online isn’t enough to make up for the business she’ll lose by canceling in-person training, and the sense of community she says gyms can foster is entirely lost.
Lau, who is also a co-founder of the Save Health and Wellness Coalition, adds that she is frustrated by the lack of transparency about how and where the virus is spread. If smaller facilities like hers are the problem, she says she has a right to know.
“It’s the continuing rhetoric of how gyms are this high-risk, dangerous place, so we have to rebuild that confidence every time we close,” she says.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
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